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A fan’s guide to the World Cup

Forget the Olympics, the Rugby and Cricket World Cups: the FIFA World Cup is days away. Shane Palmer suggests the best ways to enjoy the party in South Africa back home in Australia.

The FIFA World Cup. Watched by hundreds of millions around the globe, it truly is ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. This June and July the world will turn its focus away from local and international affairs, political unrest, the global recession, and feast on a month of football and festivities. Sure, watching the tournament on TV is no comparison to being in South Africa, but there are ways to get into the spirit of the World Cup back here in Australia.

First of all, you need to decide whether you want to watch a match at home or go out to the many venues (especially in Melbourne) that will show live games.

During the 2006 World Cup, Melbourne’s Federation Square was overflowing with fans, especially for the games featuring the Socceroos. This time around Australia’s games won’t be shown at Federation Square, the suggestion being that there will be more fans than Fed Square can handle.

Instead, Birrarung Marr (a five minute walk from Federation Square), Waterfront City at Docklands and Crown Casino will screen the Socceroos’ matches.

Australia plays their second match of the tournament against Ghana on Saturday June 19, starting at midnight – a very winnable game that is shaping to be the most viewer-friendly Socceroos match. In contrast, Australia’s other games against Germany and Serbia start at the ugly time of 4:30am, both on weekdays.

Lygon Street will no doubt be buzzing in the days leading up to the Azzurri’s matches against New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay, with the hope that the men in blue can defend their world crown. Lygon Street’s many bars, restaurants and cafés will be some of the best places to experience the passion and energy of the Cup, and while the early morning kick-offs may deter some venues from keeping their doors open, there will surely be places that will welcome football fans with good coffee, pasta, wine and extended opening hours.

Melbourne’s numerous pubs and bars will also be great places to watch and enjoy the World Cup. British-themed pubs like Bridie O’Reilly’s and the Charles Dickens are showing most matches and these are venues where you can expect to see a crowd of veteran football fans, including many ex-pat English.

For matches that start earlier in the evening – such as Holland vs. Japan, 9.30pm Saturday June 20 – the Euro Bier Café can be a great place to enjoy some European food and drink while watching the game. The German ‘Erdinger Weisbier’, with its distinct banana taste, is worth a try, as is the Czech ‘Krusovice’.

Australia’s involvement in Germany 2006 – our first World Cup appearance in 32 long years – stirred up a unified patriotism. Regular followers of cricket, AFL and rugby jumped on the Socceroos bandwagon, as well as many people who would usually have no interest in sport. The same passion is sure to return this June, and should be reflected by many venues which will stay open later to broadcast World Cup matches.

While the consumption of alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with World Cup viewing, too much can detract from one’s enjoyment of the game. A friend of mine has set his limit at no more than three standard drinks per game, in a bid to keep his attention on the pitch.

According to MarketWatch, World Cup tipsters will spend billions of dollars on a variety of different possible bets; who will lift the trophy, who will score the most goals (the winner of the ‘Golden Boot’) and who will not win a game – Sportingbet have New Zealand at $1.01 to be eliminated at the group stage.

The favourite to win, in most eyes, is Spain. Sportingbet, Sportsbet, Betfair and TAB Sportsbet all have the Spanish at $5, while Brazil and England follow closely behind. History tells us that it’s foolish to bet against Brazil, and they are always a strong side to put money on to win their group at least. While the tabloids in England have already written off their Group C opponents – The Sun calling it ‘the easiest group ever’ – the Poms are always a risky bet, as it seems something will inevitably de-rail their campaign; be it WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends) or yet another penalty shoot-out. At the bottom of the list New Zealand and Honduras have odds of more than 750/1 to win.

So, barring another horrible ‘Song for the Socceroos’, and assuming that the South African police and security is majorly boosted by the start of the tournament, the 2010 World Cup should be another great spectacle. Hopefully bosses, teachers and partners will now understand the tiredness, grouchiness and elation that inevitably follow late nights and early mornings watching the World Cup. Hopefully Tim Cahill and the Socceroos can go one step further than last time as well – we’ll soon see.

Shane Palmer is a first year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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